Arsenal outlasted a gritty Crystal Palace side to get their season back on track, eking out a 2-1 win thanks to an own goal from Damien Delaney. The Gunners, who had been stunned last weekend in their home opener by another London side, West Ham, looked far slicker and more assured at Selhurst Park this afternoon, but also showed a disturbing tendency to be opened up at the back by a Palace side that has genuine top-ten ambitions.
Arsenal started strongly today, with Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez both forcing saving blocks early. James McArthur was forced to punt a ball away from Alexis off the goal line in the 7th minute with keeper Alex McCarthy stranded; and Olivier Giroud nearly walked the ball into the goal a minute later but found his path blocked off.
Palace’s lone flowing moment came when Yannick Bolasie sprung Yohan Cabaye out wide to feed Wilfried Zaha, but Petr Cech was able to snuff out the danger. With Palace increasingly at sea in the back, it became a matter of time before the Gunners broke through, but when they did it was on an unusually spectacular fashion.
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Giroud, so maligned by fans and pundits alike, scored one of the goals of the season, an acrobatic flip over his shoulder off a shoulder-high Ozil cross that went to the opposite corner to leave McCarthy helpless. It was a stunning moment that silenced Selhurst Park, but it was no less than the Gunners had deserved on their play and power to this point.
But Palace, overwhelmed in the midfield, finally found a way to respond, and once again, there will be some questions about Cech’s positioning in the net. Last match, the former Chelsea number one was at fault on both goals and looked very rusty; today he was beat against the run of play by a matter of inches.
Joel Ward, who had been forced to watch Ozil’s cross sizzle past his head for the opening goal, made amends when he picked out the far corner with a low, well-struck cutter. Bolasie started the play, chesting the ball to McArthur, who tapped back a simple layoff for Ward to run on to. It was against the run of play to that point in time, but it changed the tenor of the entire match. Suddenly, Arsenal looked very nervy, and Cech was forced to play a succession of crosses as Zaha and Bolasie tried to turn the screw.
Arsenal were not done yet, and Ozil and Ramsey nearly combined to snatch the lead back with a superb flick to the far post that forced McCarthy into a sprawling save in the 36th minute. But too often, Arsenal were guilty of the kind of over-elaboration on the ball in the area that has proved so costly in years past. Alexis Sanchez was particularly culpable; spurning several chances to shoot that only saw Palace’s defenders get set to parry his drives clear.
Francis Coquelin was perhaps lucky not to be sent off at the end of the first half after picking up a yellow and then fouling Zaha, but Lee Mason was charitable as the Selhurst crowd howled for blood.
After the break, Connor Wickham nearly snatched a shock lead when he clattered a shot off the post with Hector Bellerin caught on the wrong side. But just when it looked as if Palace might seize the day, Arsenal struck.
Off a routine cross from Bellerin, Alexis out-jumped the far taller Ward and headed a ball into Delaney, prone on the turf. Unluckily, the ball caromed off his knee, and past McCarthy into the net. Arsenal were 2-1 up, and Palace looked deeply frustrated.
Ozil and Ramsey nearly combined again in the 68th minute with the Palace back line napping, but the Welshman volleyed his strike well over the bar. But even with Arsenal monopolizing possession, Palace continued to have their moments.
Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford won a dubious corner kick that saw Jason Puncheon ping a header over the bar with Cech tied up. Ward then drove a header on frame that happened also to be right into Cech’s arms.
Arsenal were then able to play the match out and now head back home to face Liverpool in what is expected to be a stern test for both teams. Palace next host a struggling Aston Villa side before entering the League Cup. On the evidence, Alan Pardew’s side will continue to be a force this season. But tonight, all the good feelings – and the relief – will be heading back to the Emirates.